COVID-19 will decimate the restaurant industry, that much we know. Some folks are predicting that less than 50% of restaurants will be able to come back from this. That’s a very sad reality to contend with. For the restaurants that do survive, the question of whether they will return to business as usual while having to weather a weakened economy is worth exploring.
With no dining rooms to serve, restaurants are providing for their communities in various new ways. I’ve mentioned many of these endeavors in this newsletter. Selling meal kits and groceries. Slinging wine and booze for pick-up. Engineering owned delivery operations, so as not to rely on third-party apps (which continue to be the bad guys). Sharing recipes on social media. Producing content for newsletters. These pursuits exist now as measures to stay financially afloat or keep connected, but will they cease to exist once dining rooms are full again? The current climate is a breeding ground for developing creative ideas, some of which will succeed and prosper well into the future. It’s tempting to understand these efforts as having legs beyond COVID closures, as consumer behavior is changing and could be altered for the long-term. Folks might desire take-out more and want innovative iterations of what that looks like. Newly practiced home cooks could maintain stamina over their stoves and require weekly CSA shares for provisions.
It’ll be interesting to keep a watch on if and how new revenue streams transform certain food and beverage businesses or even inspire them to pivot. Although the timeline for recovery is still shaky, and disrupted supply chains are in the midst of being reworked, I have a hard time envisioning a future where restaurants are distributing their focus and energy beyond what’s going on within their walls. It’s why you’ll hear from most restaurateurs and chefs that advocacy is the most important thing right now. The industry wants to get back to doing what they do best, running places where friends and family come together to eat well and be taken care of, in great company. I suppose we will have to wait and see.
In the meantime…
Some tips on purchasing primo provisions
Trying to up your cooking game? Regalis, an importer of luxury and chef-adored foods (think caviar, rare foraged items, and live seafood), just announced a chef collaboration series. First up is Toronto-based, VICE-famous Matty Matheson. Here are the details, as per an email this morning:
Each Tuesday, we’ll choose a chef partner who will curate a list of their favorite Regalis ingredients. The items on this special list will be available at 20% off. In addition, at the end of the week Regalis will contribute 20% of these sales to our partnered chef’s employee relief fund or to a charity of their choice.
I’ve been ordering my baking flour from artisan millers including Central Milling, Anson Mills, and Maine Grains. (FWIW, the flour shortage is not an actual shortage—it’s the result of a supply chain in the process of re-engineering itself while under pressure to meet demand. Be patient with millers instead of buying whatever you can get your hands on; your future cookies and breads will be better off for it.) I had Bianco diNapoli tomatoes and vanilla beans delivered from Caputo’s, the Salt Lake City-based specialty market (h/t Lock & Julia). I also loaded up on spices, seeds, and nuts from SOS Chefs. Bon Appétit has a longer list of where to order your favorite pantry staples online. And Damp, the natural wine newsletter, recommends buying directly from winemakers, who’ve been struggling to make ends meet with diminished demand from restaurants.
Receiving a Baldor delivery was the highlight of my weekend. If you’ve got enough mouths to feed, I encourage you to take the plunge. To anyone who thinks we won’t make use of this entire 25 kg bag of 00 pizza flour: you’re wrong.
Finally, a few worthwhile reads
I like The Counter’s new series of short, first-person accounts of the American eating experience during the pandemic. Plus, this illustrated timeline of Ovenly co-founder Agatha Kulaga’s day-to-day since having to close her bakeries. And kudos to the activists devoted to keeping Chinatown alive.
That’s all I’ve got for today. 🌾
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I'm in Asia, but grew up on the East coast, and a team in NYC. We have a couple thousand restaurant customers, similar to the profile of Tock's customers (just +12 timezones away). The traditional restaurant business model was being broken across APAC before Covid-19, disrupted on all fronts.
Same factors affecting/disrupting restaurateurs here as in the US.
"The industry wants to get back to doing what they do best" here as well, but it's is less likely than ever that will be viable. With respect, a difficult truth spoken in love is more helpful than advocacy.
The traditional restaurant business model most trained chefs have learned, and most restauranteurs are used to, is very likely now permanently broken. 'Great food & good service in a comfortable establishment' isn’t sufficient to operate successfully for many (many) restaurants. Generating a sustainable operating margin is going to require restauranteurs to experimenting with business models and operating structures/processes they are not yet comfortable with.